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Ball State softball opens MAC play with win over Akron

By BRAD CAUDILL of the BSU Athletic Dept.

MUNCIE - Led by a five-RBI day from sophomore third baseman Stacy Payton, the Ball State softball team opened Mid-American Conference play with a 14-6 (6) victory over Akron Friday afternoon at the Softball Complex at First Merchants Ballpark Complex.

“Stacy is a special kid,” head coach Megan Ciolli Bartlett said. “She has an extraordinary amount of talent. She does a great job leading for us too. Her teammates respect her and love her. Every day she comes to the field, first in and last out, and it is starting to pay off in games.”

For the Cardinals, who improve to a league-leading 23-10 (1-0 MAC) on the season, the 14 runs were a season-high and mark the fourth time in the last five games BSU has produced double-digit runs.

“We had nice offensive production today,” Ciolli Bartlett continued. “Any time you can get that kind of run support in a conference game, it is a special thing. I also thought Sarah Venker came in and did a really nice job in the circle. She just battled through the gusts of wind we had. For a freshman, she kept her composer and handled it really well.”

The Zips (6-12-2; 0-1 MAC), who entered the day with just 11 home runs on the season, actually struck first with a two-run blast in the top of the first inning.

However, the Cardinals were able to counter with a two-run bomb of its own in the bottom of the inning as junior left fielder Haley Dominique walked to open the inning and Payton followed with her first of three RBI hits in the game, a two-run blast to center field.

Payton gave the Cardinals a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the second, earning an RBI the hard way after being hit by a pitch with bases loaded and two outs.

However, Akron was able to reclaim the lead in the top of the third, thanks to a leadoff home run and an RBI single and a passed ball.

Ball State was quick to answer, posting a four spot in the bottom of the inning to reclaim the lead at 7-5. After freshman first baseman Mackenzie McCarty reached on a fielder’s choice, freshman right fielder Trinity Eckerty drove an RBI double to right-center field, cutting the Akron lead to 5-4.

Eckerty, who advanced to third on the throw in, then scored the tying run courtesy of a sac fly from sophomore shortstop Hailey Demnianiuk. The Cardinals final two runs of the inning came on RBI singles from Dominique and Payton.

Following a scoreless fourth inning, Akron cut the Ball State advantage to 7-6 by capitalizing on three BSU errors in the top of the fifth.

However, the offense more than made up for the defensive miscues, scoring four runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth to end the game at 14-6.

The bottom of the fifth opened with a walk to senior catcher Madison Lee, a sac bunt from freshman center fielder Kim Manuel and a walk to Dominique. Payton followed with her fourth RBI of the game on a double to left field. Sophomore designated player Kendall Fields followed with a two-run single off the fence in center field, while pinch runner Katie Janiga scored on a sac fly from McCarty two batters later.

The sixth opened with walks to Demnianiuk and senior catcher Olivia Huffman who entered the game one inning earlier. Sophomore pinch hitter Kennedy Wynn followed with a two-run double to center, making the score 13-6. After the speedy Manuel reentered to run at second, Dominique ended the game with an RBI single to left field.

Freshman reliever Sarah Venker picked up the win in the circle, throwing the final 4.0 innings and holding the Zips to four hits and a pair of unearned runs. She also struck out four batters while improving to 11-2 on the year.

Senior Aeshia Miles drew the start for Ball State, allowing four runs and four hits over her 2.0 innings of work. She also struck out one batter.

“We are going to have to continue this level of offensive production if we are going to win the series,” Ciolli Bartlett concluded. “Akron put in some runs quick.”

Ball State and Akron concluded their three-game MAC series Saturday with a scheduled 1 p.m. doubleheader back at the Softball Field at First Merchants Ballpark Complex.